Stuff & Nonsense: history


Showing posts with label history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label history. Show all posts

20 January 2016

How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life


I’m a sucker for day-in-the-life books that set down the minutiae of everyday life in times – the more detailed the better. (My teenage discovery and subsequent serial re-readings of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew is very much to blame for this).

No surprise then, that I snatched up a copy of Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life as soon as I clapped eyes on it. And it was delightful. For me, it is the perfect bedtime read – right up there with Flora Thompson's trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford -- in that while it is full of fascinating, delicious detail begging to be shared it is nicely broken up so that I can easily put it down and take it back up again without feeling I need to reread previous pages. (Although I do reread, because reading about morning calisthenics is just as good as doing them, right?).

I regret that the continuous desire to share excerpts of How to be a Victorian with The Husband as he lay in bed with me trying to read his book put a strain on our marriage ... but that did not deter me. And he eventually learned to put down his book (with poor grace) and be regaled with the history of public baths and wash houses or the development of marble-stoppered carbonated drinks (Victorian marble soda! Fabulous!).

How to be a Victorian is a delicious blend of research, analysis, and actual experience. Goodman is a British freelance historian who performed/prevented in several historical docudramas (which I now need watch) and as such has tried many of the activities and behaviors she writes about -- giving an already fascinating book an added layer of interest. It’s one thing to read that hair oil could be made of fats like lard or beef-marrow and perfumed, it’s another thing altogether to read that the author had herself created a perfectly functional product using a simple recipe calling for olive oil, alkanet root, and bergamot oil. (Yes, I was half-tempted to go out and try this).

For all that How to be a Victorian is fun and fascinating it does not romanticize the era. Almost everyone was cold and hungry and poor. People believed seemingly improbable things about hygiene and disease. But it’s how the world was and it’s good to know, if only so we can feel smug about the germ theory of disease and modern plumbing. Most likely people living in the twenty-third century, reading about daily life in the United States in the twenty-first, will feel equally smug.

Go, read Goodman's How to be a Victorian. And then come back and talk with me about it!

How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (Norton, 2014)

20 July 2014

Shackleton: Antarctic Journey


Shackleton: Antarctic Journey was an excellent, albeit slim, introduction to Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1917 trans-Antarctica expedition. Rather than telling the story step-by-step over hundreds of pages, Bertozzi has chosen to tell the story through a series of short scenes which stress not the patriotic majesty of the expedition but rather the smaller, more intimate personal stories -- forced to abandon ship, they discard their scientific equipment (too heavy to carry), but keep a banjo; one of the crew members goes bicycling among the penguins; they kvetch about rations, etc -- that create a sympathy for and interest in the crew, that a broader story might not.

What I still find fascinating was that, despite the hardships and travails, no-one from the Endurance was lost on the expedition! Yes, the expedition utterly failed to attain its goal of traversing Antarctica, but everyone came back alive. That is no small thing. And, it was quite depressing, upon reading the afterward, to then discover that several of the men returned home only to be killed in World War I. (Also, I now require a companion graphic for the relief ship, the Aurora, because Shackleton barely touches on them but the Afterward suggests they had a wretched time of it, too).

If you're looking for a meaty work full of biography and background, Shackleton isn't it. And that's fine, because there are already lots of Big Books on Shackleton to choose from. It's an excellent introduction and will, no doubt, lead many curious readers on to larger works. Certainly, if I'd read this when I was twelve, I would probably have cleaned my school library out of books on Shackleton and Antarctic explorations.

Shackleton: Antarctic Journey written & illus. by Nick Bertozzi (First Second, 2014)

27 February 2011

Great Speeches on Gay Rights


Perhaps the Right is right about something. We stand for the end of the world as we know it. We call for the end of racism and sexism and bigotry as we know it. We call for the end of violence and discrimination and homophobia as we know it. We call for the end of sexism as we know it.

We stand for freedom as we have yet to know it. And we will not be denied.


-- excerpted from Urvashi Vaid's "Speech at the March on Washington," Washington DC, April, 25, 1993, as published in Great Speeches on Gay Rights (Dover, 2010)
Great Speeches on Gay Rights might not provide as thorough an overview of lgbtq rhetoric as, say, Ridinger's Speaking for Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights, 1892-2000 (Routledge, 2004), but is much more affordable and more easily acquired. Seriously, for a mere $3.50, you too can cry your way through over a century of lgbtq struggles and victories.

(What I'm really waiting for is the day Library of America publishes Reporting Gay Rights or Gay Speeches. I expect it to happen in my lifetime, but then I expect a lot of things to happen in my lifetime, cock-eyed optimist that I am).

27 January 2011

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester


I read a lot of Heyer's romances and regularly come across phrases or descriptions I must puzzle out either by sifting through websites or searching the reference section of my library. It's not a big deal -- I'm have a great love of useless trivia -- but I've frequently wished for a little guide I could quickly thumb through to find my answer. And, lo, my wish has been granted!

Georgette Heyer's Regency World is divided into fourteen chapters with many black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout. Chapters cover everything from the social ladder to postage to vowels and all points between. The appendix of cant and common phrases is very welcome as is the timeline of contemporary events -- as with Austen, I find it easy to forget that these stories do not occur in a bubble.

The index is very well laid and is arranged both by subject and, interestingly, by novel. Theoretically, you could read all the notes on The Black Sheep in one go before you even started the book! (I'm not sure why you would want to do this, but you could).

The book itself is a fairly attractive trade paperback designed, I presume, by Sourcebooks to blend with the Heyer Regencies it has already republished. It is, perhaps, a bit too pink for my taste, but I have never been very fond of pink.

And while, yes, much of the information contained in this volume can be found on the Internet or in your library, it is much more pleasant to have it all neatly arranged in one location!

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester (Sourcebooks, 2010)

06 August 2010

Tea in the Morning, Tea in the Evening

Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson (Jones Books, 2004)

I spent a good hour reading interesting bits from Tea with Jane Austen aloud to The Husband -- and there were many interesting bits! For example, did you know there was a tidy black market in tea in Austen's day? And that this "tea" was frequently made from used tea leaves stretched with bits of twigs and sawdust? Or it was brewed from ash tree leaves mixed with sheep's dung and green vitriol (a toxin)?

It certainly paid to be a discerning shopper!

Besides the booming trade in illegal tea, Wilson also covers such diverse topics as tea as a curative/poison (the breakfast ale drinkers were pretty opposed to tea going mainstream) and tea as social entertainment. As someone interested in historical trivia, I was fascinated by Tea with Jane Austen and wished it could have been a bigger book!

Of course, Wilson could not write a book about tea without including recipes for lovely tea time goodies. In many cases, she has provided the original recipes text with a modern translation. Some recipes, as in the case of "For Captains of Ships to Make Catchup to Keep Twenty Years," do not have a modern translation, because ... well, who would want to make Catchup of Infinite Keeping?

Recipes I would like to try:
  • Barley Water for Henry Austen & King George
  • China Orange Jelly for Mrs. Norris's Maid
  • Solid Syllabubs
  • A Syllabub (Indirectly) from the Cow
(The original recipe for "To Make a Syllabub from the Cow" sounds fascinating, but requires an actual cow!)

14 May 2010

Give Me That Olde Tyme Hooliganism

Just finished chortling my way through Terry Pratchett's Unseen Academicals. As usual, there were quite a lot of inside jokes and asides which tickled me pink. While I'd like to think I spotted them all, I am not really that clever. Proof in point -- I did not recognise Emerson's "Brahma" lurking in Pedestria's chant.

Googling around for a copy of "Brahma," I became a little side-tracked and found a whole slew of interesting NYT articles from the late 1880s and early 1900s discussing hooliganism and the evolution of football. One article, from 1909, even talked about how the old way of playing football with its "sledge-hammering tactics" no longer worked and described a "new" football which sounded a lot like something Mr. Nutt would recognise.

The hooliganism article ("Foot-Ball Fighting" November 21, 1881) was probably my favorite as it describes a match not unlike the one Mr. Nutt attended in his bobble hat. Also, the article reads like something I would expect to read in the Ankh-Morpork Times.


It goes on to talk about how Something Must Be Done. Lawks, yes! "Let them fight with rifles, like civilized beings." Really, that is what it says!